The yard is the perfect place to let a pet explore, lounge and get some exercise. But poisonous plants, fertilizers and pesticides can all be hazards to furry family members.
Pet owners who share their homes (and yards) with dachshunds that dig, corgis that chew, Dobermans that drink from the bird bath and Labrador retrievers that treat the compost like a buffet (in addition to adventurous cats and maybe even some chickens) often go to great lengths to create pet-friendly yards where their four-legged friends can hang out without getting sick.
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For example, Brette Sember, 52, dug out the crab apple tree growing in her Clarence, New York, backyard after her dog, Lance, got sick from eating fallen fruit. Tony Sacco, 53, eschews toxic fertilizers on his Seattle lawn and looks for pet-safe products for use in his backyard water feature to ensure that his cat, Sushi, and the neighborhood cats that visit the yard won't get sick if they drink the water. And Marcia Layton Turner, 55, of Rochester, New York, refuses to spray the weeds in her yard with pesticides to protect her granddogs, Harper and Shay, who often play in the grass.
In 2020, the ASPCA Poison Control Center received 370,500 calls from pet owners about possible toxic exposures: Plants, rodent poisons, insecticides and miscellaneous “garden products” topped the list of pet toxins.
You can keep your pet safe from garden dangers by following these tips for a pet-friendly landscape.
1. Pull poisonous plants
Some common landscape plants, including azaleas, rhododendrons, foxglove and lilies, are toxic to pets if ingested, notes Tina Wismer, a veterinarian and the senior director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
Pets that eat poisonous plants can have symptoms ranging from vomiting, diarrhea and excess salivation to coma, cardiovascular collapse and death. Use the ASPCA's list of toxic plants to identify (and remove) troublesome species from the landscape, and consult the list before heading to the garden center.
2. Rethink garden sprays
Whether you're applying fertilizer for a lush green lawn or blasting the insects eating your favorite plants, it's important to consider how those products may affect your pets.
"Unfortunately, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides can be dangerous to cats and dogs,” says Michelle Lugones, a veterinarian at Best Friends Animal Society in New York. “The safest way to protect dogs and cats is to not use these products [and], if that isn't possible, prevent them having access to where you use or store these chemicals."
Even if your pets don't eat fertilizers, rolling in the grass after application or licking their paws after walking across the lawn could cause health issues, including skin burns and irritation, Lugones notes.
3. Minimize flea and tick risks
You worked hard to make your yard a haven for wildlife; bluebirds flock to the bird bath and snakes take shelter in the tall grasses. But fleas and ticks are hiding in those spots, too.